DOCTOR WHO
“The Wedding of River Song”

A Review By Timothy Harvey

As the Doctor’s time runs out, he finds there is one thing standing between him and his death, the woman who is programmed to kill him, the woman who loves him, the woman who may just destroy the universe: River Song.

SPOILERS AHEAD!

Wow. This review… this review required going back and watching the entire season again. Twice. It involved watching “The Wedding…” 5 times, with a 6th playing as I type this. It has led me to two conclusions: first, that Matt Smith truly has made the Doctor his own, and is one of the best of the many truly wonderful actors to play the part, and second, young River Song is one hot mess.

Good god. Let’s be clear, I really like the character of River Song, and Alex Kingston is an actress I can watch read a phone book. The River of “Silence in the Library/Forest of the Dead”, of “The Pandorica Opens” and “The Big Bang”, of “The Impossible Astronaut” and “Day of the Moon”: Wonderful. The River of “Let’s Kill Hitler” and “The Wedding of River Song”? Good god, can we never see her again? Please?

Ok, to be fair, River in those two episodes is meant to be a young River, for all intents and purposes the equivalent of teen/20-ish years old, especially if she develops like Time Lords seem to do. More than once in the show’s long history, the Doctor has implied that the first hundred years or so are the Gallifreyans childhood, and while he may have been joking, from the evidence of those last two episodes, River is clearly far from an adult, and certainly not the strong, independent, equal she will become. Consider this little piece of dialogue from Amy and River in “The Impossible Astronaut”:

“River, we can’t just let him die, we have to stop it! How can you be ok with this?”

“The Doctor’s death doesn’t frighten me, nor does my own. There’s a far worse day coming for me.”

Now consider this exchange between River and the Doctor from “The Wedding of River Song”:

“I can’t let you die, without knowing you are loved! By so many and so much, and by no one more than me!”

“River, you and I, we know what this means. You and I, we are ground zero of an explosion that will engulf all reality. Billions on billions will suffer and die!”

I’ll suffer, if I have to kill you.”

More than every living thing in the Universe?”

“Yes.”

Sound like a teenager’s view of love to anyone else? Nothing else mattering but being together?

Blarg. One hopes that from here on out we’ve seen the last of Young River, because she’s one screwed up Chickie. The Adult River is something wonderful and cool, the Young River nearly destroyed the entire bleeding Universe for love of one man, something that is more or less the opposite of what the Doctor believes in. When he says he’s embarrassed by her, it plays like he’s trying to goad her out of the lovesick fangirl she’s being, because here, that obsessive love is going to destroy everything the Doctor fights for. And that she turns on a dime and lets him have his way seems as much “Oh Joy! I get to be Mrs. Doctor!” as the revealtion that he’s got a plan. Driving this view home is the end, where Adult River visits Amy and Rory, and she acts, oh I don’t know, like a grown up and not a teenager. Please Mr. Moffat, more of Adult River, because we’ve had our visit with her early days and we all know how she came to be and please please please can we never come back? Mrs. Robinson yes, fangirl no.

Whew. Little rant there. So, what about the rest of it all? Well, the good news is that for about 70% of the episode we get some pretty cool timey-wimey-ness, and for the most part, answers to this season’s questions. The Doctor comes up with a plan to avoid his death, Amy gets to have her revenge on Madame Kovarian, and Rory gets to continue to be a badass, and while we’re there, those parts are very cool. In reverse order then…

As I’ve written a few times before, Rory has really developed A LOT throughout his time in the TARDIS, from being the hapless boyfriend to being The Boy Who Waited, to being the kind of man who makes terrible necessary decisions because they have to be made. Even in this alternate timeline, he’s become the soldier out of necessity and stands beside Amy, although neither of them are aware of their relationship in the real reality. Well, not initially anyway, but events will make that clear to them both, and the moment when the Silence break down the door and call him The Man Who Dies And Dies Again, and Amy saves him is one we’ve waited for. But it’s before that, when the EyeDrives are having their terrible effect, when Rory refuses to remove his because he won’t be able to fight the Silence without it? He stands there, one man in terrible agony, one man against an army of the Silence, because someone has to. Bravo Rory.

As for Amy Pond, again, I’ve written much about how she’s been treated this season, and here we get the strong, in control Amy that she deserves to be, AND we get a reaction to losing her baby! Bonus! Of course it’s still not the reaction we should have seen, with Amy losing her damn daughter to the Silence, but yes, it’s what we’re going to get. And it’s not so bad in fact… on their way to join the Doctor and River, Amy and Rory walk past the captive Madame Kovarian, reeling from the EyeDrive assault, and we get this:

“A..Amy… help me.”

“You took my baby from me, and hurt her. And now she’s all grown up and she’s fine, but I’ll never see my baby again.”

“But you’ll still save me though… because he would. A.. and you’d never do anything to disappoint your pre-precious Doctor”

“The Doctor is very precious to me, you’re right, but do you know what else he is, Madame Kovarian? Not here. River Song didn’t get it all from you… sweetie.”

It’s controlled, but it’s fury, and for the first time, Amy Pond willingly takes a life. And it’s something she is conflicted about, even when the timeline is restored, because she still remembers. Would that we had seen even this much over the loss of Melody, but alas. Still, it’s something, as is her real joy when River reveals that the Doctor found a way to cheat death.

For, of course, he does, and it’s pretty elegant, if not fraught with a pretty big “Wait, what?” Using the Teselecta, he goes to his death in a Doctor suit, which takes the fatal blows, and the regeneration we start to see was, um, special effects? And when his friends burned his body, it um… damnit! Right, here’s some of the 30% Just Doesn’t Work. So the Doctor is inside the ship, which has configured itself to look like him. Fine. But we saw the Doctor start to regenerate, which, ok, let’s go with the FX explanation. Dodgy, but ok. But they burned the body. They. Burned. The. Body. Ok, little Doctor, little TARDIS, they slip away fine. But the ship is still there, and somehow I doubt a) it’s going to be destroyed by fire, and b) considering how important it is to River that the Doctor’s body be safe from his enemies, that she wouldn’t wait until the fire consumed it all. Sigh.

While we’re on things that don’t work… ok, the suit was controlling River, and she was only able to discharge the weapons early, creating the new, and doomed, timeline. But in the original timeline she failed, and so the suit did the work. So why, oh why, was River necessary at all? I’ve seen it suggested that somehow River’s Time Lord/human DNA helped lock the fixed moment in time down even more, but there’s nothing in the episode to suggest that, and well, it didn’t work did it? If the suit just needed someone to be in it, why not just anyone? Why River?

What did work there, and what was important, is that the Doctor knew that River wouldn’t remember committing his murder, that the Silence would wipe her memory. So we get around our little question of River’s reaction to his death, by seeing that it was a true reaction. It must have been terrible knowing that she was serving a prison sentence for killing him, but not remembering how or when, and it explains her “Of course not”, when her bullets fail to bring the Astronaut down… she couldn’t stop it because she didn’t stop it. And she didn’t know that the Doctor survived, because he didn’t tell her that he did, until they were in the alternate timeline… remember that the Doctor spent 200 years traveling before he brought his friends to America, and in there, lived his life with River. Apparently quite a bit of it while she was still in prison, so one assumes that she agreed with his desire to slip into the shadows… and yes, I know that the following video tells a different tale. Mine makes more sense.

And that brings us to the Doctor himself. Recognizing that he’s become too big, too famous, too frightening, he decides to appear to die. And it almost worked too, if it hadn’t been for that damned meddling kid, um River. But in the end, he got to do exactly that, but not before a couple of very important things happened. The second is pure magic, and a little heartbreaking. Railing against what the Universe seems to be pushing him towards and coming very close to the arrogance of the 10th Doctor at the end, the Doctor calls Earth, and tells the person on the other end to get “him” and shouts that “Time has never laid a glove on me!”, only to find that it has.

He called the nursing home where one Brigadier Alastair Lethbridge-Stewart resides, but too late. The good Brigadier had passed away months before, waiting to see his old friend one more time, and here, here, Matt Smith gives us a moment the Doctor experiences all the time, and one we almost never see. His friends die. They die of old age, and he continues on. It’s subtle, it’s powerful, and it’s true, and Smith delivers it brilliantly. As he says later, his friends are the best part of him, and in the end, they will all be gone. We never got to see Nicholas Courtney make an appearance in the new series, and his death earlier this year means we never will, so it was nice to see that sad moment become a part of the Doctor’s life, and an important one. Rest well Brigadier.

Ahem.

The first is this: While trying to avoid his fate, he searched for information on the Silence, and along the way, we got to see that the Doctor still has that dark edge to him, as he confronts a damaged Dalek:

“Imagine you were dying, imagine you were afraid, and a long way from home and in terrible pain. Just when you thought it couldn’t get worse, you looked up, and saw the face of the Devil himself. Hello Dalek.”

That that is shown from the point of view of the Dalek is creepy, very creepy, and from the sound of the Doctor’s voice, well, the Time War is far from off his mind. But after a warped game of Live Chess, he find himself in possession of the still living head of Dorium Maldovar and the reason why the Silence wants him dead.

It seems that the Question the Silence doesn’t want answered is one the Doctor is in a unique position to answer, a secret that they know only he possesses, one that can never be revealed. And at a place called the Fields of Trenzalor, at the Fall of The Eleventh, there will come a time when only the truth can be spoken, and there, there, the Doctor will answer the Question, and this the Silence cannot allow. But what is the Question?

Ohhhhh you crafty buggers. It’s quite a big one, and it opens up a LOT of new questions itself. You see the Question that cannot be answered, the one that the Silence needs the Doctor to never answer, the question the Doctor has been running from all his life… is simply this: Doctor Who? Who is the Doctor? Well, that question came up years ago at the end of the first run of the show, and the plan was to reveal that the Doctor wasn’t quite who he claimed to be, and was part of what came to be known as the Cartmel Masterplan. It seems unlikely that we’ll be seeing that hit our screens, since it was so aptly played out in the New Adventures novel LUNGBARROW, but one does suspect that sometime in 2013, around a certain anniversary, the rug will get pulled out from underneath us.

So much more I could write about this episode, from Ian McNiece as Churchill, Mark Gatiss as Gantok, pterodactylus in London, Area 52 in Egypt, and more… but I think we’ve covered the most important parts. So thank you Matt Smith, Alex Kingston, Karen Gillan, Arthur Darvill, Steven Moffat and Co. It’s been a hell of a season, and it’s worked more than it hasn’t. You asked big questions and gave us big stories. That they didn’t always work, well, that’s how it goes, and we’re happy you tried, because sometimes you made magic. And now we wait. Because the bad news is that the London Olympics are going to push the next season back to the fall of 2012, and while we’ll have the Christmas Special and there are rumors of an Easter Special, the answers, and the new incarnation of the show are many months away. New incarnation? Yes indeed, because we have something of a reboot here don’t we?

The Doctor is Dead. Long Live the Doctor.

[“Doctor Who” on the BBC web site]     [“Doctor Who” on BBC America]

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